CHICAGO — The city is trying to get as many coronavirus vaccine doses to Chicagoans as possible — and that includes cracking down on suburbanites who are taking badly-needed appointments in the city.
The city is vaccinating more than 6,000 people per day on average, but demand continues to far outpace supply, Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said at a Monday meeting of the City Council’s Committee on Health and Human Relations.
Coupled with that, people who don’t live or work in Chicago have been making vaccination appointments at pharmacies in the city, meaning those doses are then not able to go to residents. That’s become a concern since supply is so low that many seniors and eligible workers are struggling to find open appointments.
Arwady said she has “no issue” vaccinating non-residents who work in high-risk settings in the city, like Cook County Jail, or health care and factory workers.
“What I don’t like seeing are non-Chicago residents who have opportunities to be vaccinated where they live, coming to Chicago to be vaccinated, and what I especially don’t like is if they are not being truthful on their screening forms,” she said.
To fight that, the city is “cleaning up” its online registration system by filtering out people who don’t live or work in Chicago. But Arwady conceded the city can’t “completely police this.”
Officials are also putting pressure on pharmacies to do a better job at weeding out non-residents who try to make appointments in Chicago.
About 11 percent of the city’s vaccine doses are going to pharmacies, with Walgreens being the largest provider in that group, Arwady said.
While Walgreens has been a “good partner,” Arwady said the city had a “real conversation” with the company last week and told its officials the city will only send its vaccine doses to certain Walgreens this week — and they’re going to be the ones that are vaccinating Chicago residents.
Still, most people are being vaccinated through hospitals and health centers. The city has tried to cut down on non-residents getting vaccinated or people “line jumping” at those facilities by asking providers to directly contact established patients who are most at risk from COVID-19 to set up appointments, Arwady said.
Another part of the puzzle: The federal government allocates vaccines to major cities and states based on their population, but there are many people who work and get vaccinated in Chicago who don’t live here.
City officials are talking to leaders in Cook County and the state to see if Chicago can get more doses since the city is vaccinating so many non-residents, and because the city is an “employment center” where many non-residents come to work, Arwady said.
So far, more than 323,000 people have been vaccinated in Chicago, with about 63 percent of doses going to residents of the city and 37 percent of doses going to non-residents.
More than 56,000 Chicagoans have also been vaccinated outside the city, as well.
Arwady thinks there is a “false narrative out there that somehow doses are being wasted,” and that drives people from outside the city to think it’s OK to make an appointment in Chicago because if they don’t get the vaccine it will go unused.
That’s inaccurate, Arwady said, as doses are not being wasted in Chicago and there is far more demand for vaccinations than the city can handle due to the low supply of doses it gets from the federal government. She said more than 100,000 people are on a wait list for vaccinations at city-run sites.
More than 360,000 Chicagoans who are 65 or older and more than 350,000 frontline workers are eligible to be vaccinated during Phase 1B, the current phase of the city’s vaccination campaign. There are also tens of thousands of health care workers left over from Phase 1A who need to be vaccinated.
But the city receives fewer than 40,000 doses of vaccine per week.
The city has distributed 99 percent of its supply to vaccine providers, like pharmacies and health care clinics. And 85 percent of doses are administered and reported to the city within one week, Arwady said.
Arwady thinks the city will eventually receive “exponentially” more vaccine from the federal government, but there won’t be a “huge difference” in the supply until late February or early March — and only if new vaccines are approved.
The earliest Chicago could receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is completed after one shot, is in early March if it is approved by federal agencies this month.
The city could receive another vaccine made by Novavax in early May, Arwady said.
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